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Resident doctors and district health boards began further mediation talks in Wellington this morning, as the unionists walked off the job for a 48-hour strike at 8am - the fourth such strike this year.
Doctors who are members of the Resident Doctors' Association are continuing to take industrial action after failing to reach settlement with district health boards in their collective employment contract talks regarding terms and conditions.
The union claims the DHBs are trying to alter conditions regarding working hours and place of work, while the employers say changes agreed in the last contract talks to ensure safe staffing need to be amended to allow for greater flexibility in rostering.
RDA members have been striking for two days apiece on a fortnightly basis and have balloted for a possible fifth strike in March.
Dr Rosa Tobin Stickings -- a local RDA organiser -- and a hardy bunch of colleagues this morning mounted their fourth picket outside Dunedin Hospital.
"This is not what I want to be doing -- I would far rather be at work,'' Dr Tobin Stickings said.
"But I feel this is what I have to do to protect my working conditions.''
Dr Tobin Stickings hoped there would be no need for a fifth strike, and expressed optimism there might be a breakthrough in today's talks.
"There has definitely been some good movement and we hope things will continue to go in the right direction.''
Each strike has resulted in hundreds of appointments and operation postponed, and Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said many more patients were again affected by the industrial action.
"Our contingency planning team has continued to do an outstanding job, working with clinical and support staff from across the DHB, to prepare for this action, including contacting patients whose surgery or appointment have been postponed,'' he said.
"Though busy, our hospitals remain open and patients should still come to their scheduled appointment or surgery on those days unless we have contacted them directly to say their appointment is being rescheduled.''
Despite the ongoing disruption from the strikes, mediation between the parties has failed to resolve the issue, with the union saying DHBs were demanding to be able to take ``unilateral action over their working lives,'' and the DHBs saying issuing of strike notices in the middle of ongoing talks was inconsistent with trying to settle the dispute.
Mr Fleming said SDHB hospital emergency departments remained open, and patient safety remains their number one consideration.
"We appreciate the patience and understanding of those whose care is being disrupted, and again thank all our staff who have been involved for planning for the strike action to ensure patients are safe and cared for.''
The doctors return to work at 8am on Thursday.